Leviathan by Scott Westerfield
Series: Leviathan #1
Published by Simon Pulse on Oct 6, 2009
Genres: Alternate History, Steampunk
Source: Amazon, Audible
Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.
Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She's a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.
With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn's paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.
I love alternate history, and I love original world-building. These two things are in great abundance in the introductory work to Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan series. Unfortunately, I also love creative characters and novels with self-contained narratives. These two things were in shorter supply.
It is definitely refreshing to see someone take up an alternate history novel that is not set in World War Two or the Cold War, and Westerfield does a wonderful job of laying the undertones for conflict without hobbling himself to real world events. ‘Clankers’ and ‘Darwinists’ facing off made for a surprisingly compelling read, and I could sympathize with both sides through their respective narrators Alek and Deryn. Their voices were excellent, believable, and the use of each side’s slang added a level of reality to the story that I have rarely seen authors pay attention to. The plot unfolds quickly without feeling rushed, and have I mentioned just how much I love the world that Westerfield has built? Yes fabricated beasts and giant diesel driven mechs aren’t the most original ideas, Girl Genius was doing basically the same thing years before, but there’s such detail in his telling that characters can expound on basic concepts without feeling like they’re hitting the reader over the head with exposition.
Deryn and Alek, the woman disguised as a man and the renegade prince, aren’t bad characters but they fall flat when set against the background, and the supporting cast. The observant female ‘Boffin’ Dr. Barlow truly steals the show, usurping any scene she has with the main pair, and forcing them into the background. It’s a little hard to hold an audience when your primary protagonists are less interesting than a snarky gene-manupulator.
The plot flows well, if a little clumsy through Alek’s early chapters. If I thought that Westerfield had made the ‘Clanker’ chapters feel mechanical and stilted on purpose I would applaud, but he saves the day with Deryn and her living airship. I found myself wanting to follow her story exclusively until the pair finally meet towards the end of the book, where things really begin to run like clockwork…
Until it abruptly ends a few chapters later. It would be nice to get some kind, any kind, of resolution to the story that I had just spent those hours reading. I understand that this is the first work in a trilogy, but why does that preclude it from a real ending? Can we get resolution on at least one plot thread? The author has plenty to choose from, dangling at the end of the book like string in front of a kitten.
I suppose it worked, since I plan to get the second book Behemoth just to find out where things go from here. The world is too compelling to leave alone, even if the protagonists aren’t, and hopefully they will get better as the series advances and the intentional layers of mystery and obfuscation pull back. Bottom line- worth a read, but plan on getting the second book as well if you want to get more than a taste of this fantastic world, or resolve any plot at all.
Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines
Series: Ex-Heroes #1
Published by Broadway Books on February 25, 2010
Genres: Horror, Science Fiction
The first novel in Peter Clines' bestselling Ex series.
Stealth. Gorgon. Regenerator. Cerberus. Zzzap. The Mighty Dragon. They were heroes, using their superhuman abilities to make Los Angeles a better place.
Then the plague of living death spread around the globe. Billions died, civilization fell, and the city of angels was left a desolate zombie wasteland.
Now, a year later, the Mighty Dragon and his companions protect a last few thousand survivors in their film-studio-turned-fortress, the Mount. Scarred and traumatized by the horrors they’ve endured, the heroes fight the armies of ravenous ex-humans at their citadel’s gates, lead teams out to scavenge for supplies—and struggle to be the symbols of strength and hope the survivors so desperately need.
But the hungry ex-humans aren’t the only threats the heroes face. Former allies, their powers and psyches hideously twisted, lurk in the city’s ruins. And just a few miles away, another group is slowly amassing power . . . led by an enemy with the most terrifying ability of all.
First off, this book combines two things I like, Superheroes and Zombies. In a world where a few people are granted superhuman abilities, what would happen when the zombie apocalypse breaks out? As it turns out, there’s only so much the heroes can do.
The book takes place roughly one year after the zombie plague has erupted. And the superheroes are struggling to survive just like everyone else. This group of survivors has holed up in Paramount Studios, or as they call it now, The Mount. Some of the heroes who keep the peace and guard the civilians are just highly trained individuals with guns and gadgets, others are truly out of this world with powers that can’t be easily explained.
Peter Clines does a great job of not only telling about their struggle for survival during the end of the world, but is able to slip in the tales of how they handled the collapse of civilization. He even manages to slip in simple explanations throughout the book about how some of these rare individuals gained their unique powers.
I really enjoy how even the heroes have to struggle for survival after the collapse of civilization. There is no one man who is able to lick the entire horde of zombies, and restore civilization with one arm tied behind his back like many would think in the more typical superhuman stories. Even the strongest of the heroes have their limits and weaknesses. It makes these superhuman characters seem more human. I found myself rooting for the heroes and holding my breath when there were complications that put the characters at risk.
And now, it turns out there is a threat none of them could have ever expected, a super villain who wants to take out the heroes and their small encampment of survivors. I won’t give anything away, but if you enjoy both Superheroes and Zombies then this is the book for you. I give Ex-Heroes a solid 4 star rating and recommend it to all my friends.
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Series: Cruel Beauty Universe
Published by Balzer + Bray on January 28th
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance, Young Adult
Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast in this sweeping fantasy about one girl's journey to fulfill her destiny and the monster who gets in her way-by stealing her heart.
Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.
Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.
With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she's ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.
But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle-a shifting maze of magical rooms-enthralls her.
As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex's secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.
Cruel Beauty is yet another foray into the sub-genre of fairy tale retellings. Authors expound upon a set story and shape it to their desires. These stories always bring something exciting to the table, whether they’re set in the future with space travel and androids like The Lunar Chronicles or are a modern day retelling of the Persephone myth like the Everneath series.
In this instance, we have a retelling of Beauty and the Beast that is set in the land of Arcadia. There is a Grecian flair attached to everything in this book. It’s interesting, considering the other Beauty and the Beast renditions I’ve read have been contemporary and then the standard French countryside. Still, it reaches into areas of Greek subculture that I, as a voracious reader of mythology haven’t ever touched on.
The book itself starts off very slow. We meet our main protagonist and learn of the hatred in her heart and of her quest. But, how many times do we have to be reminded of her love for her annoyingly happy sister, that she’s going to be marrying the demon lord that rules the land, that she’s avenging her mother, and that her father is having an affair with her aunt? Apparently constantly throughout the first few chapters. Once Nyx makes it to her husband’s abode and starts to explore, it eventually picks up.
The book offers what appears to be a standard love triangle. While Nyx battles with her feelings and her perceptions of both the demon lord and his shadowy footman, she is weighed heavily with her original task of avenging her mother. Eventually, her heart wins out, especially after finding out how futile her original destructive plan was.
In giving her heart over to Ignifex, a mystery opens up. This mystery takes us through the rest of the book and the climax, offering an interesting take on the Beauty and the Beast mythos as well as that of the Greek Furies mythos. The ending is satisfactory, though a little muddled and somewhat cliché with an interesting juxtaposition from the introduction.
Yes, this book has the Stockholm syndrome type love that you’d expect from the source. Despite that, the author ends up weaving an interesting and mysterious romance that is both dark and captivating.